Our Top Books for Spring April 26 2018
Spring has sprung on Drury Street! Well…sort of. While the weather can’t decide whether to soak us with rain or burn us with sunshine, we’ve decided to take the “fake it ‘til you make it” approach to spring. We’re simply going to pretend that it’s a good time of year to get out into the garden and plant some seeds! Here are our top books for the season, full of lovely plants, nature activities, lambs, and all the best things about this time of year.
Pelle’s New Suit
Pelle's New Suit is one of our favourites from our beloved Elsa Beskow. Pelle has a little lamb who he's responsible for looking after. When spring arrives and the time comes to shear the lamb, Pelle decides to make a suit out of the wool. His grandmother agrees to card the wool in exchange for Pelle weeding the carrot patch, and his mother weaves the yarn for him as long as he looks after his little sister. This is a lovely book to teach children about give and take, and its illustrations are full of gentle spring colours.
Botanicum is a beautiful collection of botanical illustrations, perfect for gardening enthusiasts. Katie Scott’s intricate illustrations will make you feel like you’re in a Victorian conservatory every time you turn the page! This book also has lots of information on plants, so it’s perfect for readers of any age who are interested in botany and horticulture.
Little Tree is a great book for younger children who are just learning to read their first words. It shows us what happens to a tree through the four seasons, including changes in weather and animal activity. It’s got lots of fun flaps to lift up and peek under, with nature words to learn as you read.
Findus, Food and Fun
Sven Nordqvist’s Findus and Pettson series, about a grumpy farmer and his mischievous cat friend, is one of our all-time favourites. In this activity book, Findus, Food and Fun, Findus and Pettson show us lots of interesting things to make and do at all times of the year. This is a great one to get kids outdoors and active, but it’s also got lots of good indoor craft projects for those inevitable rainy spring days.
The Secret Garden
Who doesn’t love The Secret Garden? This edition of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic is beautifully illustrated by Inga Moore. Her illustrations really capture the sense of fresh air and colour in the children’s adventurous hideaway.
The Root Children
The Root Children is a nostalgic, classic book by Sibylle von Olfers; a turn of the century author and illustrator whose style is similar to Elsa Beskow. Under the ground, deep in the earth, the little root children sleep tight all winter. When spring comes Mother Earth comes along to wake them up, and they set to work bringing all the plants and flowers up to the surface for springtime!
Nordic Magic: Five of Our Favourites from the North January 31 2018
Anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock for the past few years will have noticed the massive trend in all things Nordic recently, from lifestyle trends like the Danish hygge philosophy to Swedish Kanken backpacks popping up everywhere. We’ve always loved Nordic design and illustration at Tales for Tadpoles, from classic Swedish author Elsa Beskow to the whimsical world of Moomin from Finnish artist Tove Jansson.
Here are five of our favourite things from Nordic countries.
If you don’t know Moomins, you would probably love them. If you already know them, you are probably deeply, deeply obsessed with them to a level that is perhaps unhealthy.
Moomins are creatures from the fictional land of Moominvalley. They were first created by the iconic Finnish author, illustrator and artist Tove Jansson in the 1940s, and are now a global brand. They feature in a series of novels and picture books, and at one point had their own daily comic strip which ran for over years and was read across continents, by a readership of 20 million.
The 1960s and television culture brought with it a merchandising explosion, and Moomins were among the first characters to be reproduced in commercial prints for the retail market.
This Moomin print was among the first ever produced for the retail market. Buy a reproduction here.
There is something uniquely Finnish about the Moomins, with their tales of endless summers and snowy winters. They are now so much a part of Finland’s national consciousness that the two are inextricably linked. But they also have a global appeal. Moomins are huge in Japan, and with the current trend for all things Nordic they are becoming much more well known in Ireland, the UK and the U.S. Read more about Moomins and Tove Jansson in another of our blogs.
2. Folk and Fairy Tales
Like Ireland, Scandinavia and the Nordic region has a very strong oral storytelling tradition and a wealth of folk history. Around the same time that Lady Gregory and W.B. Yeats were collecting folk tales in Ireland, two folklorists set out to record the folk tales of rural Norway and published them in a volume called East of the Sun, West of the Moon. The tales were later reissued with illustrations by the Danish golden age illustrator Kay Nielsen, and what results is a feast for the senses.
East of the Sun, West of the Moon was recently reissued in a gorgeous hardback coffee-table book edition, (here), with full pages to show off Nielsen’s intricate designs. It also includes essays on the history of folk culture and Golden Age illustration. You can learn more about the incredible Danish illustrator Kay Nielsen in our blog on his life and work.
3. Classic authors like Elsa Beskow
Beskow was a turn of the century children’s writer and illustrator whose scenes of forests, nature and rural harvests are uniquely Nordic. The sense of humour in these books is very Swedish too, with grumpy goblins and well-meaning children who accidentally burn their mother’s house down!
While other cultures are au fait with translation, the English speaking world tends to stick to its own well known authors. Introducing children to classic Scandinavian literature in translation is a great way to broaden their world view and feed their curiosity. You can find our large range of Elsa Beskow books here.
Elsa Beskow's life was a fascinating story in its own right, you read more about her in our biography.
4. Wacky humour like Findus and Pettson
The Nordic countries have their own special brand of humour, which is very noticeable in Moomins and in other series’ like Findus and Pettson.
Findus and Pettson is a series of picture books by Sven Nordqvist, about a grumpy old farmer and his mischievous cat. Findus and Pettson are modern day Odd Couple who get themselves into all sorts of scrapes, with hilarious results. As with Moomins, this series is a household name in Scandinavia and Germany, but is largely unknown in Ireland and the UK. Anyone we’ve met who takes one of these books home always comes back for the rest in the series. They are wacky, warm and memorable. And look at those illustrations! Read more about the warmth and wit of Sven Nordqvist here.
5. Cosy homes
These Elsa Beskow homewares from Design House Stockholm show off slick Swedish design at its best. When you have to spend so much time indoors during the dark and cold winter months, you may as well do it in style! We could learn a lot from Nordic lifestyles about making the best of winter, and making your home pretty and cosy is a great place to start.
Words by Sophie Meehan.
Illustrator of the Month: Elsa Beskow July 05 2017
Our ‘Illustrator of the Month’ blog series focuses on some of our favourite illustrators, their lives and their works. This is a chance to learn more about the people who illustrated your favourite books, the influences that shaped their art style and storytelling, and some of their lesser known projects.
Elsa Beskow was a Swedish children’s writer and illustrator who published dozens of books during the early 20th century. She is often referred to as “the Beatrix Potter of Scandinavia”, and children in that part of the world have been growing up with her stories for over a hundred years. She was a very prolific worker, and her stories reflect her interest in nature and the freedom of childhood.
Elsa Beskow was born Elsa Martmaan in Stockholm, Sweden in 1874, the second of six children. As a small child she was already a natural born storyteller, and her older brother Hans would help fill in the words when her imagination was bigger than her vocabulary! She grew up surrounded by fairy tales and nursery rhymes, and would later create her first picture book The Tale of the Little, Little Old Woman from a nursery rhyme her grandmother taught her. When this book was originally released, the publisher convinced her to add in an ending with the Old Woman's cat running to the woods and never coming back, because this was the way he remembered the rhyme from his own childhood. But years later she added an extra page to say that maybe she came home in the end, so that children wouldn’t be sad!
When Beskow was 15, her father died, leaving her mother penniless, and the family moved in with her unmarried aunts and uncle who were already living together. This living arrangement later inspired the Aunts series, some of Beskow’s most popular books. The stories feature Aunt Green, Aunt Brown, Aunt Lavender and Uncle Blue, who take in the unfortunate children Peter and Lotta and educate them at home.
Beskow began publishing the Aunts series during the First World War. The war traumatised her and recalling childhood memories to create an idyllic world was a way of escaping from reality. The generosity of the three aunts is a hallmark of these stories:
“For now and then Aunt Brown put toffee and gingerbread in their pockets, Aunt Green secretly told them they could eat all the gooseberries and pears they wanted from the garden, and Aunt Lavender kept calling them into the kitchen to taste her berry syrup.”. - Aunt Green, Aunt Brown and Aunt Lavender, 1918.
Sweden suffered food shortages during the war; bread and sugar were rationed, followed by meat, eggs, milk and butter. Women went on strike demanding food for their children, and there were even outright riots over the shortages. The bountiful world of the Aunts series was an appealing fantasy for Swedish families at this time.
Providing for the family
Elsa Martmaan met Nathaniel Beskow at art college and she became Elsa Beskow when they married in 1897. They had six sons. Although they met when they were both studying art, (Elsa was a model for Nathaniel’s paintings), Nathaniel changed direction suddenly and went back to his abandoned theology studies. This career didn’t bring in much money, so Elsa became the main provider for her growing family. She described her married life and career as “every year another book and every other year a boy”. One of her sons, Bo Beskow, (who became a successful artist in his own right, with some of his work being housed in the United Nations headquarters), looked back with amazement at his mother’s work ethic in his book Krokodilens middag:
"How did she find the time to work with her picture books! She had to produce one a year in order to support the family…We understood that father’s work was important; he was not to be disturbed, but mother only drew and painted – it was fun and we could disturb her as much as we wished. Mother was always available; she didn’t have her own work room, she wrote and drew at a large white table in the parlor. Everything and everyone in the house that moved passed by there, someone always needed her help with something."
The financial pressure to provide for her family explains why Beskow was such a prolific author and illustrator, with 21 books by her in our collection alone! Her sons made their way into her books, she used them as models for her illustrations, and wrote books for each of them. She also used her garden as inspiration for the plant life in her books, and was interested in nature all her life. Working in a domestic setting didn’t limit Beskow’s imagination. In Krokodilens middag her son said his mother “could work magic. Sometimes when it was gray and cloudy, she would take a stick and stir up the clouds and say: ‘Come out sun!’ and the sun came out.”
Beskow’s first book was The Tale of the Little, Little Old Woman, but her first major success was her second book, Peter in Blueberry Land. It was first published in 1901 and translated into German in 1903, Danish in 1912 and English in 1931. In this book, Peter gets shrunken down to tiny size by the King of Blueberry Land, while collecting fruit in the forest for his mother. Beskow often combined her love of nature with her fairytale imagination, and in this book Peter gallops on mice with the blueberry boys to meet Mrs Cranberry and her five daughters.
Beskow’s illustration style is as gentle as her stories, with delicate watercolours and rosy-cheeked children, but as a writer she was not as conventional as she may seem to modern audiences.
The aunts and uncles who helped raise Elsa Beskow had progressive views on childhood and education, and founded a school where enjoyment and games were central, and emphasis was placed on helping children understand what they were learning, as opposed to teaching by rote. This probably influenced her stories, as they are full of children showing their initiative and striking out on adventures of their own. Even though this doesn’t always end well, (like when The Children of Hat Cottage end up accidentally burning their mother's house down when she’s away on errands!), these stories reflect Beskow’s upbringing and the belief that children should decide things for themselves to fulfil their unique potential. Beskow’s attitude to class struggles and women’s liberation can be seen in another of her popular books, The Flowers’ Festival, in which the haughty flowers dismiss the weeds as “rabble”, but the weeds refuse to be silenced.
Some critics have even suggested that Mrs. Chestnut, who wears a loose, flowing dress, is depicted as pregnant. If true, this challenged the conservative Swedish bourgeois view at the time, that pregnant women should be hidden from view.
Like all great children’s authors, Elsa Beskow believed that childhood was special and that children’s imagination should be respected. She enjoyed creating her picture books, saying that “there is something blessed about children, they are always willing to meet you halfway”. Her work still stands up over one hundred years after it was created, and her books are now also interesting from a cultural history perspective as they detail clothing and interiors from turn of the century Scandinavia. Her illustrations are still inspiring designers to this day, recently details from her work were reworked by Catharina Kippel in a beautiful range of kitchenware from Design House Stockholm.
Beskow is considered the earliest Swedish author to have had mass popularity outside Sweden, and her work has been translated into nineteen languages. In 1958 there was a prize named after her, the Elsa Beskow Plaque, which awards excellence in Swedish picture books.
View our large range of Elsa Beskow books and accessories here.
6 Beautiful Books To Keep Children Inspired All Year Round January 30 2017
So the days are still short and the weather retains a nasty chill, but there’s no reason to feel glum about the year ahead. To help restore your excitement about all that’s to come, we’ve put together a list of children’s story books that will lift your spirits and rekindle your sense of wonder in the everyday.
If insects could talk, what would they say? Could we even understand them? Du Iz Tak? (which was recently honoured at the prestigious Caldecott picture book awards) easily engages its readers by bringing them into the story through the use of an ingenious (and often very funny) visual language that’s sprinkles clues, prompts and great little side stories throughout its wonderfully illustrated pages.
The more attention you give to the details, the more the story reveals of itself, until finally you can almost understand exactly what our little neighbours are saying to one another.
Imagine a bicycle with square wheels (“you wouldn’t get very far”); a door without a room (“would you be indoors or outdoors?”); a teapot without a spout (“you would get very thirsty”). These are just some of the odd and unusual scenarios and their consequences that illustrator Norman Messenger asks readers in Imagine, a book for the unbridled invention of young and curious minds.
By using images that have a surreal or seemingly illogical flavour (Salvador Dali and M.C. Escher come to mind as influences), Messenger creates compelling puzzles and allows readers to interact with many of the pages by opening flaps or spinning wheels to reveal exciting new concoctions that will keep them guessing, thinking, and imagining.
It’s a natural tendency at this time of year to look forward to the warm summer months, taking picnics in the park or relaxing on a beach. But if you take a moment to think about it, you’ll see that there’s something uniquely special about each month of the year.
This is the precise message of Elsa Beskow’s Around the Year, which puts together simple verses with gorgeous, evocative images to remind us of the joy to be found in everything from tucking into freshly baked food in the depths of February, to the first blooming of flowers in April to the ripening berries and glowing cornfields of August.
While the Findus books are best known for the vibrant adventures of farmer Pettson and his cat Findus, this one is a little different. Findus, Food and Fun instead offers readers a creative compendium of things to do whatever the time of year.
From propagating grass seeds in old socks to making boats out of tree bark; from baking delicious treats using berries to creating a teeming aquarium of creatures from ponds and rivers, Findus, Food and Fun encourages constant invention and shows there’s always lots to be done when you decide to embrace seasonal change as well as appreciate it.
A wordless tale written by a poet, Footpath Flowers relies on its bold visuals to tell the story of a little girl who gradually brightens up the world around her through small acts of kindness and appreciation.
The glorious black and white illustrations serve only to accentuate those beautiful splashes of colour that the young protagonist adds as she shares her creativity and compassion with those around her.
From picking flowers to petting dogs, the story teaches us just how important it is to never lose sight of the small things in life.
A book that revels as much in words as it does in the actions they represent, Let’s Join In is divided into four chapters with the titles “Hiding”, “Giving”, “Chatting” and “Bouncing”.
With lavish illustrations throughout, each chapter helps bring both the word and its associated activities to life using a simple formula that fuses everyday examples into a simple narrative highlighting the many joys to be found in exploring the world as if for the very first time.
It reminds readers, young and old, that the commonplace is in fact extraordinary.